Japan marks two years since tsunami
Country marks second anniversary of devastating earthquake and tsunami
People observe a moment of silence facing the sea during a rally at 2:46 pm, the time when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off Japan's coast in 2011, in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture. Photograph: Reuters/Kyodo
Japan is marking the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami which left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing and more than 300,000 people still displaced.
At memorial observances in Tokyo and in barren towns along the north-eastern coast today, those gathered bowed their heads in a moment of silence marking the moment, at 2.46pm local time on March 11th, 2011, when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake - the strongest recorded in Japan’s history — struck off the coast.
“I pray that the peaceful lives of those affected can resume as soon as possible,” Emperor Akihito said at a sombre service at Tokyo’s National Theatre.
Japan has struggled to clean up radiation from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, whose reactors melted down after its cooling systems were disabled by the tsunami, and rebuild lost communities along the coast.
A new government elected in December has vowed faster action, but has yet to devise a post-disaster energy strategy — a central issue for its struggling economy.
About half of those displaced are evacuees from areas near the nuclear plant. Hundreds of them filed a lawsuit today demanding compensation for their suffering and losses.
Throughout the disaster zone, the tens of thousands of survivors living in temporary housing are impatient to get resettled, a process which could take up to a decade, officials say.
“What I really want is to once again have a ‘my home’,” said Migaku Suzuki, a 69-year-old farm worker in Rikuzentakata, who lost the house he had just finished building in the disaster. Mr Suzuki also lost a son in the tsunami, which obliterated much of the city.
Further south, in Fukushima prefecture, some 160,000 evacuees are uncertain if they will ever be able to return to abandoned homes around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, where three reactors melted down and spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water after the tsunami knocked out the plant’s vital cooling system.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of 800 people in Fukushima against the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co, the utility firm which operates the now-closed Fukushima plant. They are demanding an apology payment of 50,000 yen a month for each victim until all radiation from the accident is wiped out, a process that could take decades.
Evacuees are anxious to return home but worried about the potential, still uncertain risks from exposure to the radiation from the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
While there have been no clear cases of cancer linked to radiation from the plant, the upheaval in people’s lives, uncertainty about the future and long-term health concerns, especially for children, have taken an immense psychological toll on thousands of residents.
“I don’t trust the government on anything related to health anymore,” said Masaaki Watanabe, 42, who fled the nearby town of Minami-Soma and does not plan to return because the radiation in the ground is too high.
In Kawauchi, one of many towns with varying degrees of access restrictions due to radiation, village chief Yuko Endo is pinning his hopes on the success of a long decontamination process that may or may not enable hundreds of residents to return home.